Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cost-Efficiencies

There are times in one's life when worries about vital life-style affordabilities take precedence over hard-headed decision-making. In some instances sensibilities to the functional utility of taking out insurance policies to fend against the possibility of disaster befalling through some personal catastrophe, aided by emotions of attachment to a pet persuade people to enroll their beloved pets in a health insurance policy.

About the only thing going for this course of action, is peace of mind.

The fact is a healthy, well-looked after animal is no more likely to become a victim of untoward health urgencies due to physical break-down of body function, or becoming involved in an unfortunate accident, than is a well cared-for child. Unless you've selected a particular breed given to congenital health problems, and unless you neglect safety issues with respect to pet ownership and normal areas of responsibilities.

Sentimentality, and the investment of much emotional baggage in a pet is a certain incentive to exploring any and all avenues to ensure the well-being of a beloved companion. And so it was that we took out health insurance for our little miniature poodle when she was several years old. She is now fourteen, still youthful and healthy. When we took possession of another companion dog, he too was given a health insurance policy.

And we felt assured that all would be well; if they required expensive surgery for any reason, we would be able to provide it for them through the kindly auspices of an insurance policy pay-back on expectations. We knew that our little poodles were a fairly safe breed. Some breeds, given to breed-specific ailments of a truly serious nature as impediments to attaining ripe old age without medical intervention, can procure insurance coverage, but at a premium.

And so it transpired that with their own natural genetic endowments and our care of their needs, we never once called upon the policy to make a claim for them for well over a decade of policy-holding. To begin with, regular veterinarian check-ups, or even emergency vet care is not covered, nor are the usual shots for distemper, rabies, parvovirus, or the yearly protocol for heartworm prevention. Dental care is also not covered.

We had opted for a middle-plan, a gold, not a platinum standard policy which would provide for many of these ordinary services, but at a premium monthly price. We realized over the years, that there was a steady 6% annual fee increase for these health policies. To the point where we were paying out $106 monthly in insurance fees for our little dogs. Costly, but we still thought it worthwhile for peace of mind.

Then six months ago we required surgery for out toy poodle who had suffered the misfortune of a fat tumour growing inconveniently under his left back leg. The tumour's growth was truly phenomenal despite which we kept hoping it would reverse itself and simply disappear as so often happens with fat tumours growing commonly just under the haircoat. Instead, this one grew to the size of a baseball, and it needed removal before it would impair the little fellow.

That's when we took a really close look at the policy, and realized that we wouldn't be getting that much financial support through the insurance, after all. We just managed to squeeze under a 6-year-of-age ceiling for deductible, by a mere month. As it was the policy exacted a $400 age-category deductible for our claim, along with the annual deductible. When the final accounting took place, we were reimbursed $800 for a $1400 claim; better than nothing.

But when we did the math, totting up what we had spent over the years for "peace of mind" we realized how inefficient the reality of the function of such an insurance policy is. And then a bit of outrage set in when, five months after our single claim for these two years-long insurance policies, we received notification from SecuriCan, the general insurance company that underwrites Petplan insurance, that they were reconsidering our policy.

Warning us that as of January first of the new year our plan would be "adjusted". Should we invoke the policy in the space of the coming year for another reimbursement for surgery or any covered medical condition, coverage would be effectively reduced to 60%, less any applicable deductibles. As a too-obvious form of disciplinary action for having had the unmitigated nerve to actually draw payback options on the policy.

The letter informing us of this nonsensical alteration of the payback quality of the insurance policy stated that the missive itself was the message; it was to be considered by us to be a policy amendment notification. And it concluded by thanking us for our "commitment" to pet health insurance. More than adequately leaving us to question the insurance company's commitment to their health insurance for pets.

This insurance must surely qualify as the worst possible return for one's money. What other insurance premiums grow at a steady annual rate of 6%? While at the same time abstemiously taking it upon themselves to narrow the payback to subscribers as a form of punishment, gently berating them for the demonstrated temerity of anticipating support when needed.

In the vernacular, Petplan stinks.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

To Avid Television Flop Viewers : A Gift From Canada

It may very well be inspired in intent and high hope, but it has turned out to be uninspired in plot and content, in execution, in portrayals, in the need to succeed. Success being measured in actual comedic content in a purported comedy. The twofold purpose being to amuse while delivering a message and in the doing perhaps help to defuse the potential for societal confrontation.

While adding to the entertainment quorum of an otherwise-still-struggling national industry with the intent to add lustre to an occasionally-unworkable national pluralism.

Oh, what's the fuss? It's an attempt to make viewers chuckle, perhaps in recognition of their own subliminal reactions which, if they're the least bit fair-minded should make them blush, while at the same time, poking gentle fun, and coddling them toward a more accepting mind-set. We could all, after all is said and done, use a little nudge now and again to bring us to open-minded consideration for others, despite our social/cultural differences.

This being noted, it's really a pity the series has fallen so flat. So many Canadians tuned in to the introductory show prodded by curiosity after all the advertising in all the media, convincing us we'd really be missing out on something good if we didn't give it a try. So, dutifully, as Canadians are wont to be, particularly when it comes to our national broadcaster, we did give it a try. Really, we did. We wanted to like the show; its premise held such promise.

Wooden, exaggerated acting. Uncreative scenarios, bordering on condescension. If we laughed it wasn't often and barely convincingly. The first impression was one of disappointment. After all those public relations promises that this would be a belly-tickling blockbuster! What a led-down. But what do we know, after all, we're just the target audience. And a notoriously fickle one at that.

Does the international community of eager television series viewers know something we don't? Are they less difficult to please than we stolid, staid Canadians? The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is beside itself with delight that this latest of their little treasures, Little Mosque on the Prairies, has been optioned and in some instances already broadcast in countries like France, Switzerland and a few French-speaking African countries.

Oops, add Finland and Turkey. How about Israel, the West Bank and Gaza? There too. Just think how useful a comedy about xenophobic Canadian hicks - grudgingly accepting the controversial presence of an assortment of Muslim characters, slightly more cosmopolitan than their Canadian small-town counterparts, yet culturally and socially as closeted and puzzled at the clash of tradition - might prove to be in those last three combative environments.

Fact is, after viewing the initial segments the last two will come away with misconceptions about Canadians in general, and a deep intrigue of comprehension foiled with respect to their co-religionists' benighted interest in settling in Canada to begin with. The awkwardly amateurish production doesn't promise to heighten the international community's knowledge of this country, nor might it find inspiration in the interaction between clumsy, sometimes blandly racist, occasionally well-meaning Canadians and Muslim immigrants.

The fast-fading Canadian audience is testament to the fact that Canadians quickly began averting their gaze from the series, attested to by plummeting viewing statistics - and still falling. But then, who knows what the reaction abroad will ultimately be? Consider the situation of politicians - highly unpopular at home for their internal governance, yet receiving thunderous applause on the international stage.

Perhaps what we identify as too laboriously obvious - lacking the subtlety that makes for good comedic interactions - will be viewed with high praise in an audience less jaded. Less demanding, willing to settle for less? Um, don't think so; we've seen what the French, the Turks, Israel are capable of producing in high-quality cinema.

Bummer.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Snow Bedazzles Us

It's winter. Really - quite amazing - for by the calendar winter has yet another month to arrive before fall slinks into the past for this year of 2007. Some people still haven't even raked their lawns of piles of leaves, and here we're blanketed with a thick layer of snow. It did not come tippy-toeing into the night to overwhelm us with its magical surprise come morning. It blew in, hurricane-like, launched by mighty winds that threw whatever reluctant fall leaves were left on trees into history, and lit up the night sky with its glittery presence.

We now have soft billows of snow everywhere. Covering up the previous day-and-night's desultory, yet traffic-destructive snowfall that was far heavier, wetter, and littered through with freezing rain. That was really the day that launched winter into what had been a mild fall, reminding us that reality is not yet global warming. Or if it is, it most certainly manifests its presence in mysterious ways. The mild temperatures up until now which had permitted of light jackets and barely-there gloves, have vanished.

In their place bone-chilling cold. Made all the more so by the insistent wind that heralded the change. The prospect now, looking out our windows is no longer transitional, but most definitely the cold white empire of winter. Out with the shovels, and fire up the snow throwers. Snow is serious business here in the frozen north. We search out those long warm and fuzzy socks to pull on under our serious calf-height boots with the serious treads that will not freeze rigidly in frigid temperatures.

And where only two days earlier we were swishing our way through piles of leaves in the ravine, now we plod through soft excesses of snow. Ah, the trees bend low under their burden of snow. Every branch, each twig, is abundantly covered with softly fallen snow. While the day before the temperature launched itself just below freezing and the winds saw success in mischievously dislodging clumps of snow from overhead branches onto our heads, alarming our little dog companions - not so today.

The wind has abated, the thickness of snow clings determinedly to softwood and hardwood alike; firs, pines, spruces and cedars are wondrously limned in scarce-recalled winter finery. We hear the rushing of the creek, and now can admire its presence, transformed into a thing of beauty by the presence of billowing snowfields cushioning it. At all other times of the year the creek is undistinguished, with no features worth admiring. It is nutrient-absent, and hosts few aquatic creatures. It is beset with fallen limbs, and urban detritus, its clay bottom dull.

We hear also in nearby trees the sweet song of grosbeaks, celebrating the day.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Our Little Fellas

There was a time, not so long ago, I actually looked forward to taking our little dogs to the veterinarian hospital we've so long frequented, for their annual check-up and vaccinations. For their part, they were never eager to go, but had no say in the matter. It was for their benefit, for the good of their health, to keep on top of the yearly evaluations and the shots. They endured, helplessly, at our side. And we comforted them as best we could, throughout the process.

First, our now 14-year-old Button had experienced a dreadful reaction to her combined rabies-parvovirus shot when she was very young. That was during off-office times, and we had to rush her to the 24-hour emergency hospital downtown. That was costly, but it saved her life. Then, when she was still only 7 months old, we had her neutered. She has a long and active memory. These were memorable occurrences to her, and she has developed a long, unforgiving memory.

For his part, Riley, now 7 years old, had enough unfortunate occurrences. Impacted glands that had to be squeezed out without benefit of anaesthetic at the emergency veterinarian. Again, after hours. One occasion when he screamed in pain at something having caught in his throat, when we rushed him there again, to find it had subsided and the examining veterinarian could discover nothing physically amiss.

Then his neutering at our usual veterinarian hospital, which had him stay overnight, just as Button had, so many years earlier. She had been relatively stout-minded about her ordeal; he had been devastated, and for the following two days whimpered constantly, stabbing at our hearts. And finally, the occasion when we realized he had a fat-comprised tumour steadily growing under his back left leg. Submitting him to surgery when it had reached the size of a baseball.

So when they realize we are parking the car at a certain spot, they express their despair and fear audibly, pathetically. We try to stem their fears, and control their trembling expectations of disaster, murmuring comforting promises of release. We wait patiently after their weighing-in, then are ushered, all four of us, into the waiting room. This is a routine visit. A thorough physical for Riley, along with his annual leptosporosis shot. It's also time for his once-every-three-years rabies shot.

The veterinarian is kind, gentle and understanding, and eventually Riley stops trembling under his capable, searching hands. All seems well, and he's given a clean bill of health. The scars from his surgery barely visible; he healed quickly and well. And he's stoic when he's undergoing the two shots. Soon back in our arms, and then it's Button's turn.

She is nervous and high-strung about this assault on her dignity. She has no wish to submit herself to the quick examination, but she is half-cradled in her owner's arms, and she settles down to the ordeal. Which she speedily determines is anything but, yet is still reluctant to gladly lend herself to the probing. She too receives her annual leptosporosis shot. A short, amiable discussion follows with the veterinarian.

The heart murmur that he had detected at the last examination is no longer there. He had been concerned; at her age it could be indicative of some serious physical deterioration. She is in superb physical condition. Her hearing loss at low decibel sound is normal enough for her age. Although there is some hardening of the lens of her eyes, her eyesight is not really compromised very much.

We discuss their diet, their daily exercise rituals. Shampoos, particularly medicinal shampoos, to cope with Button's congenital but slight problem with dry skin. She's a miniature poodle, and he's a toy poodle, but there is only a one-and-a-half pound difference between them. Despite that he is given a bare one-third of the amount of food she gets. Different metabolisms. He no longer is willing to leap and jump, fearful of the consequences.

So we lift him everywhere. Despite which, we tell the vet, when we were out in the mountains with them this spring and later again in the early fall, doing some mountain climbing, when he's out there, he seems to forget. And surprises us, and perhaps himself too, with ambitious leaps from one rock to another, fear forgotten, reacting to the natural environment, suddenly sure of himself.

Our veterinarian asks after our daughter. He had also looked after the welfare of her seven dogs, before she moved. We've known him over a decade, yet he looks so young. And he's capable, and he cares. And who knew he had two daughters, 9 and 12, and worries about their speed in achieving tween- and teen-ship?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Say It Isn't So...

Well, obviously wishing it were not so will accomplish exactly nothing. Yet it is so difficult to wind one's mine around the fact that in a country as wealthy as Canada, with all its opportunities, its generous social programmes - obviously never generous enough - and its undoubted dedication to the well-being of its heterogeneous population, there are still deep pockets of poverty.

Statistics Canada tells us that we have made strides in the last number of years. That there are fewer elderly Canadians living at or under the poverty line. That there exists far fewer families representing the working poor. That far fewer children live with their families - often single mothers - in a state of poverty. That is comforting to a degree. Yet within this great country there is a need expressed by the fact that most of our cities operate well-used and -needed food banks.

That in the capital city of this country as well as elsewhere we have charitable groups whose function is to aid and to feed the dispossessed, our street people, shiftless migrants and disinherited social outcasts. Other groups whose purpose is seasonal; to provide the wherewithal for children to be given adequate winter clothing in our unforgiving northern climate. And those whose single purpose to provide a once-a-year expression of community support in the form of Christmas-season food baskets, including toys for children.

It's a blight on our sense of well being. Now UNICEF has issued a report condemning this country for failing to adequately support the rights of children. The UNICEF Canada study just released claims that child poverty persists at an inexcusable scale. That mental illness and serious health problems assail Canada's children, most noteworthy those among our Aboriginal populations at a rate double and triple those in the non-Native population.

That there is a stark over-representation within the penal system of First Nations peoples and ethnic minorities. "Compared with other industrialized countries, our children are suffering from unacceptable rates of poverty, obesity, mental illness and violence that have persisted or increased since Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991", according to Nigel Fisher, UNICEF Canada president and CEO.

The report states that while Canada has made gains in some areas, and has implemented many promising initiatives - life expectancy having increased and infant mortality rates declined - other issues still remain to be addressed. Infant mortality rates among First Nations is almost double that of the rest of the population. It points out the limited opportunities for disabled children to successfully participate in education, community life, and future employment.

There is much unevenness among the provinces; the political will to institute meaningful changes to satisfy the urgent needs of our children has not yet been fully engaged. The study recommends the opportunity for the establishment of a children's commissioner to help ensure that children's rights are being protected. The question is why are we so tardy in recognizing these needs? Our children are most precious resources.

They deserve no less than that we demand the very best of present living conditions, of future opportunies.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Their Sovereign Majesties

Although love and marriage appear to have become somewhat diluted as a social institution in favour of less formal partnerships in life's journey, it's nice to see and hear of old married couples celebrating half-centuries and more of wedded convenience.

Oh, of course there's more than convenience in long companionships. There's the original background of physical attraction, psychological attachment, and the convenience of instant companionship. I'm being provocative here.

Kidding, just kidding. We're talking about Lizzie and Phil Windsor after all. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain (and the Commonwealth nations) and her royal consort, Lord Philip Mountbatten. Um, Elizabeth Windsor and Prince Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg. Sixty years of marriage. And good on them.

Although there is most certainly an element of royal discretion and duty involved in their relationship, it cannot have been devoid of the sweet considerations of a shared love, of spiritual forgiving. They committed themselves to one another. It cannot have been easy for someone like Prince Philip to swear allegiance to his queen, also his wife, and to walk careful steps behind her royal presence at all times as royal consort.

She to the palace born, ruling regally with distinction and wit in her role as constitutional monarch, devoted to her sense of duty to her country and her position. Hard to know which might have come first, her ingrained, carefully taught and absorbed duty to country or her womanly love for her gallant and often outspoken husband.

But it's their little secret and so it should remain.

In the final analysis they have acquitted themselves exceedingly well. More power to them, if they indeed required more power. They've suffered through the same indignity and 'cuts of a thousand deaths' that most parents of independent-minded children undergo. And they did it with grace and dignity.

Therefore, may they long linger in peace and contentment.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Wildlife : Wild Life

It is cold now in the ravine, colder still where neither morning nor afternoon sun filter through to the ground. The ground, in fact, is in the process of freezing up. Night-time temperatures dip to well below freezing levels, leaving hard frost decorating rooftops of houses surrounding the ravine. At the sides of the creek, just where the water touches the sloping banks ice is beginning to creep into semi-permanence, albeit still slight-white in presence.

Those areas of the ravine where the sun is able to warm up the trail see the ground moist and slippery in the release of night-time frost. All the fallen leaves have now been reduced to crumble-status, far removed from the glory of their pre-release brilliance. The mounded leaf pack is now an amalgam of crisp brown-grey, and the crinkled leaves invite our dogs' curiosity. They too are garbed, like us, against the bitter cold. And they linger here and there, sniffing furiously.

As we ascend yet another hill we focus on movement ahead. There, just before us, in the now bare branches of an old apple tree, two rose-breasted grosbeaks. It has been years since we've seen these delightful birds. Many years ago when we lived in another part of this city we often saw flocks of yellow grosbeaks come to our backyard feeder. Where we lived then appeared to be a regular flyway for migrating birds.

As we forge on, other sounds are revealed beside those of the chickadees flitting about. Button stalks on ahead as usual. She is black and her bright red sweater makes her very visible. Well behind us totters apricot-coloured Riley in his navy blue coat, stodgily making his way along the path. We stand momentarily halfway between both of them, our progress arrested by the light, high voices of children.

Soon we see a small brightly-clad form approaching, screeching delight to her companions at the sight of a small dog, briefly arrested in motion as Button stands quietly to contemplate the dual charge of two little girls. One wears a bright yellow cloche, the other has a hoodie over her head; both in winter jackets and boots. The boots of the smaller child twinkle an on-off red light as she hurdles forward. The little girls try to capture Button and she smoothly eludes them.

At fourteen years of age, Button isn't in the market for child-adulation, but the children offer it regardless, insistent that it is their right as bright little beings to enjoy nature to its fullest and nature has offered up to them, not only a woodland setting but a small dog trotting along a path ripe for their delectation. Button is wily and eludes them. Their complaints at her lack of co-operation are muted when they espie Riley, and they proceed enthusiastically past us toward a far more tolerant little dog only 7 years old.

Trailing behind them indulgently - not calling out to them to cease and desist for the strange dogs may bite them, as would a mother - is an exceedingly tall, somewhat stooped old man. His deeply wrinkled face forms a smile to our greeting, and he pulls his dark cap closer over his exposed ears. To my remark that he has a handful, he responds that they're good little girls, causing him no trouble at all. Sisters, one considerably larger than the other. The tiny one, it transpires, is older by a full year than the one that hulks over her.

Probably half Inuit, the grandfather figures, indicating the large round-cheeked little girl attempting to entice Riley's attention away from her smaller sister who is hunkered down and protectively encircling our puzzled little dog. Riley patiently receives their attention, their strokes and blandishments, and accommodates them by dutifully licking cheeks. They shriek their delight. We make to move on and say our good-byes, and they voice their disappointment.

Later, when we've completed our circuit, there is the old man and the two little girls, far from where we first saw them, which was one-third the way of our entire walk, ascending the hill leading to the street we live on. I remark to the man that the little girls have done well, on their sturdy little legs, side-stepping tree roots and rocks, in the process enjoying fresh cold air and exercising their bodies. Yes, he responds, telling me he is trying to recall when he was 3 and 4 whether he had the physical stamina to enjoy a walk like that.

He wants to stand and talk, as we emerge from the trails onto the street. We've never seen him before, but in the brief time we talk, he introduces one topic after another; the careless manner in which mothers nowadays permit their young children to play on the street without their mother's presence; the make-up of modern families with half-brothers and -sisters. The education system being stretched to accommodate African-centred alternate schools. Bad enough, he says, French and English and Roman Catholic separations.

The disappearance of smoke-stack industries in Ontario; the state of our health care system and the scarcity of family doctors. He tells us about one family living on his street where the children are left to fend for themselves, their mother a nurse. He's certain she travels to work at a local hospital, signs in for the day, then makes herself scarce, returning home before returning much later to sign out. One of these days, he says, he'll follow her and find out for certain.

He talks about immigrants, those who don't want to work, others who must work at jobs that don't reflect their professional and educational backgrounds. An anomaly; a Lebanese man he met who worked at laying out paving bricks so he asked the man why he wasn't working in a diner; the response being that he hated cooking. He appears willing to talk forever. The two little girls are hunched down over a sewer grate, happily tossing pebbles and dirt into it to hear the magical sound as they hit water.

No, we decide, he isn't a bigot, his opinions are too well balanced. Just someone who really could use the presence of a neighbourhood pub or barber shop where he could sit around with his peers and relieve himself of his point of view.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Things That Matter

It's Sunday morning. Button has taken lately to pattering about early in the morning; we can hear her nails clattering on the hardwood floors, then silence as she runs over the wool area rug in our bedroom. Until last summer she had always slept in our bed, at the foot of the bed, and she wouldn't budge until there was a definite indication that we were prepared to leap out of bed. Now, she sleeps in one of our two back bedrooms. Actually on the very bed that we used when she was herself young, now retired to a guest bedroom.

She whines, and leaps up at the bed, not interested in joining us on the bed, but wanting us to rouse our lazy bones out of bed and give her breakfast. Riley, until then fast asleep deep under the duvet, begins a low growl, unappreciative of her pestering awakening. We don't resort to growling; promise her we'll soon get up. She settles down for another half-hour then gives it another try, and finally we troop downstairs to let them both out to pee.

Cold overnight; minus 4 degrees centigrade, so we put a sweater on little Riley before he goes out. That sweater will remain on him; he has never taken to cold weather and will shiver uncontrollably if he's left sweaterless. Once they've been tended to, and we've had our morning shower for invigoration and hair-washing, it's our own breakfast we tend to. During which we read the morning newspapers as is our wont, luxuriating over the sheer pleasure of doing both; eating and reading.

Actually, he's reading one of his art magazines, and I'm reading the paper. If I find something I know will be of interest to him I'll alert him. We're simultaneously listening to the CBC; don't want to miss out on any news items, along with socially significant revelations. Michael Enright is interviewing an author about his latest publication; the war on women in society. The number of women being murdered by their partners. He cites staggering statistics.

Among other items in the paper I'm reading, there's one about the Queen's diamond wedding anniversary. She's 81, married at 21 to her tall Prince Charming; royal grump to most other people. Sixty years of connubiality. We're lagging less than a mere 8 years behind. We were both 18 years old when we were married. To one another. We're also ten years younger than her Royal Highness. Far less famous.

Later, he goes upstairs to begin the electrical work in the guest bathroom. He's already done the hard work of replacing the vanity countertop, tiling the floor and halfway up the walls. While I'm downstairs in the kitchen, half-way to cleaning up, but diverted for the moment, mixing up a bread dough, and kneading it. Still listening to the radio. Still dialled to the CBC; for us the only station on the dial, in any event.

This later interview is with yet another author of a newly-released book. This one, purporting to settle, once and for all, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Not a conspiracy. Just a random act of madness. The details and comparisons of earlier findings are fairly interesting. Then the radio is shut off and the battery-powered radio sitting nearby is put on - to CBC Radio 2, where it's perennially dialled in to music.

He's clattered downstairs and I hadn't heard him. He has another radio on upstairs, where he's working, and as he occasionally does, wants me to hear a golden oldie. I laugh when I hear what it is: "Tennessee Waltz". He pulls me away from the counter and we dance, slowly, easily, just as we did so many years ago, when we were young.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pride Of Workmanship

When one finally retires from wage-earning the pursuit of other interests can take pride of place. For some people it's golfing, with unrestricted time to pursue that boring game. For others it may be anything from learning ballroom dancing, to producing your own pottery, to lending as much time as ever was desired to gardening. For many others leisure time to pursue activities formerly denied by press of time and the working imperative, it can be lending oneself to charity work.

For someone like my husband who has always had a keen interest in art and design, building and cabinetry, the future of retirement promised endless time to indulge in all of his passions. And over the years he's done just that, not that while he was gainfully employed he didn't plunge himself into many projects over the years, from pencil-sketching, to stained-glass work, to building traditional armoires and finishing recreation rooms in the various homes we occupied.

This, our latest and last home has become his focus of interest. For the first five of our years living in this house he undertook a great many changes while still working full time. From installing French doors side-by-side to separate two rooms, to creating full-window stained glass landscapes and painting scenic landscapes on canvasses, large and small. During the ten following years of retirement his ambitions enlarged to encompass greater renovations.

So it was that he excavated a mightily huge area in the front of our house to design and implement plans to create two piazzas of interlock, brick and stone. Deigning not to resort to the use of electric saws he painstakingly cut every brick and stone to fit by hand, using an old-fashioned set of stone-cutter's tools.

He undertook to refashion our kitchen by deconstructing it through the removal of the existing countertops, and building them anew of superior materials before laying down ceramic tile on the floors and walls of our laundry room, breakfast room, kitchen and powder room which also had its countertop replaced by one of his own devising.

In our master bathroom he removed all of the original ceramic tile and replaced it with marble tiles, applying the marble to shower and tub-surrounds, floor and walls, floor to ceiling. Also replacing the double sinks, countertops, light fixtures. He pulled up the wall-to-wall carpeting in our bedroom and replaced it with strip flooring, did the same in the hallways, the library.

He had already installed a powder room in the basement, before he finished two large rooms, one to serve as a study, the other as a large studio. The larger of the two floored in ceramic tile, the smaller in wood oak parquet, while the powder room, comprised of a separation between toilet and sink area, was floor-tiled as well as halfway up the wall - before retirement.

His latest project is the ancillary full bath on the second floor, used as a guest bathroom. A nice enough and utilitarian room, but uninspired and insipidly unaesthetic to his critical eye. A month ago he undertook to remove the counter over the vanity, and replaced it with his own designed and built product, then commenced to cover it with inch-square quartz tile. He then alternated the quartz with matching one-foot-square marble tiles.

Moving right along and prepared to do some of the electrical work in the bathroom, he was a little surprised and no little disgusted to discover the short-cuts taken by whoever installed the electrical fixture in that bathroom, and he bought some more upgraded bits to ensure that the new fixture he is installing is up to standards.

It’s amazing how many little secrets in short-runs manifest when one undertakes such work. What obviously is indicated here is the cut-throat competition involved in securing contracts by the trades when houses are being built in a tract situation. The contracts are always awarded to the short-bidders, those who undercut their rivals, presenting bids that fall short of what it would cost to do a decent job.

And of course the successful contractor then has to look around for means by which he can make up the difference. Using inferior materials and inferior methods of installation gains him an obvious advantage. At the same time disadvantaging the prospective owner of the newly-built house.

The construction firm doesn’t much care, since it’s unlikely these short-falls will ever be discovered, other than in the event, such as has happened with us, when remodelling or reconstruction takes place to reveal that all is not quite what it should be. And since that is always some time away off in the future, long beyond the time that the construction company has offered to guarantee his end-product, no concerns are perceived. It’s the way of the world.

Pride in workmanship and accomplishment of the task at hand are no longer the prevailing mode. Ever since the ‘bottom line’ became the yardstick by which all such things are measured. Under-servicing a customer is no longer an issue, since most people have long since given up such expectations they may once have harboured, of receiving full value for whatever funds they expend to acquire objects which the manufacturer has ensured have a relatively short life-span, ensuring also that the need to replace them becomes imperative within shorter and shorter time spans.

Instead of rebelling against such environmentally disastrous, let alone consumer-deleterious practises, we meekly accept these things as the way business is done. Boycotting producers and manufacturers on the basis of built-in obsolescence, when we know they could do a whole lot better just isn’t an issue; people living busy lives simply aren’t available to, or interested in a civic project that could have wider ramifications in the way we accept the status quo.

And the purpose of this little treatise is....?

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Values (Material) Inherent, Intrinsic, Perceived

It's all in the eye of the beholder. What else can explain this silly little conundrum, that a jewellery item manufactured of gold or platinum set with diamonds - a coveted item for so many of the first world's females (third-word women are more sturdily concerned with adequate food and shelter) - is prohibitively expensive to obtain and own. Proudly own. Obviously, it's the relative scarcity of the materials: gold, platinum, diamonds.

Confession: I may be a practical individual but I too obsess about jewellery, admire pieces for their lovely designs, workmanship and grace. I tend to eschew really inexpensive "costume" pieces in favour of pieces made from precious metals and precious and semi-precious stones; not exactly 'fashion' pieces, but items that I consider, through the lens of my personal aesthetic to represent beauty.

The practical side of me admits that it's insane to spend steep sums of hard-earned cash to satisfy such irrelevant cravings. So my choices are modest in relative terms, because my purchasing power is also modest. Leaving me not frustrated but utterly satisfied, grateful for what I am able to acquire, particularly when the discussion revolves as it does, on such obvious trifles.

Yet there's one other thing. Sterling silver is a precious metal, and cubic zirconia are, as far as I'm concerned, legitimate stand-ins for the more pricey and precious - in terms of availability - diamonds. A well designed ring, for example, whose manufacture is executed with care and pride, made of silver and set with zirconia provides me with full satisfaction. I defy anyone to differentiate when examining it, between the affordable and the 'authentic' piece.

A lovely ring which I had bid for on an oft-visited site on e-Bay now graces my finger. It satisfies and more than satisfies my craving for beautiful design and construction. Its cost was well under ten dollars. A similar ring with similar-set and -sized stones fashioned of gold and diamonds sells for from $13,500 "and up" at a local well-known jewellery chain. Is this madness or what?

My daughter is as smitten with jewellery as I am. Like mother, like daughter; her daughter too exhibits an inordinate interest in jewellery of all types. It gives me great pleasure to obtain all manner of jewellery pieces and to give them regularly as gifts, to my beloved daughter and priceless granddaughter.

Their cost is insignificant, given their materials - still precious metal, still respectable semi-precious stones of various types - and the pleasure it afford us is legendary in our family.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not Too Bright, Huh?

Or, since I'm Canadian - Eh? Which is to say sometimes it seems the poor old cerebellum goes into hibernation. It could be embarrassing, but at my age I'm beyond that. Just a nuisance. And, in the case, such as this one, when a product has been purchased erroneously, from a source which will not accept returns, it's also a waste. On the other hand, we had decided in any event, to retain it, just in case it's needed.

Ours is, after all, a northern climate, and our winters tend to get very cold; icy in fact. So that, the product which we purchased in error and which we must now keep since JYSK does not accept returns of bedding products, will remain here in our home. Never know when you might need a featherbed. Don't know what that is? Obviously, I didn't, either, since I thought it was just another name for a duvet.

It most definitely is not; that, I now know. Last year we bought a duck-feather duvet for our granddaughter's bed. She and her mother live in a log home built in 1864, on the edge of the Canadian Shield. Beautiful property they're on, with a wetland directly below and behind the house, tall trees all about, and granite not too far from the surface anywhere you look. They heat with a propane stove, located in the central chamber, a great room.

Really, it is a great room, with high and massive log rafters, and the propane stove does a fairly good job. Additionally there are electric heaters in all the other rooms. Given the cost of electricity, these are used as seldom as possible. Given the cost of propane as a fuel it too is used relatively sparingly and layering of clothing is the order of the day to preserve comfort.

This time we went shopping for a duck-feather duvet for our daughter, and bought the Queen size. Except what we really bought was a featherbed. And when we were at our daughter's house and prepared to envelop the featherbed-cum-duvet in the duvet cover that we'd also bought, we discovered the "featherbed" to be somewhat lacking in dimension.

It's a fair bet that any European would never have made such an error. There, where the tradition of featherbeds and duvets is long and knowledgeably practical due to the lack of central heating, they know the difference. Featherbeds are heavy-weight and they're meant to lay directly on a mattress, therefore they're the size of a mattress. One lies upon them.

Duvets are light by comparison, and warm too, of course, and are meant to be used as cold-weather covers. One lies under them. Back we went to the store, determined to get the King-sized "featherbed" as it would surely have the correct dimensions. And, speaking to one of the sales personnel, mentioning the size-inadequacy of the previously purchased item, the light dawned as the lovely woman patiently explained the difference to us.

Ah, yes - of course. So we purchased this time a true-blue duvet, with two matching pillows. Laughing at and to ourselves at our naivete. Hadn't a clue.

That was several days ago. Today, reading a recipe in the food section of our daily paper, I came across reference to rutabagas, and the tip that, despite that I'd always thought a rutabaga was really only another name for a turnip, it's just not so. Stupid me. They may seem similar but they're different vegetation-beasties.

When I mentioned this to my husband, he regarded me with a piercing gaze and finally said "you're really going downhill fast, aren't you? Don't know the difference between a featherbed and a duvet, haven't a clue that a rutabaga isn't a tulip. What'm I going to do with you?"

What, indeed.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Damn! They're Back...

Unbelievable. Enough to tear your hair out in frustration. I am a fastidious house-keeper. Really. I am. I clean regularly, like everything neat and tidy and like to ensure that there are no food items about that can lure pests to our food cupboards. Most often I re-containerize food emptying grains, dried fruits, nuts, flour products from their original containers into suitably-sized plastic containers with firm lids. I re-use glass containers and jars for that very same purpose, as well.

Yet flour and pantry moths seem to be attracted to our kitchen and they drive us (me) to distraction. We think the first invasion occurred as a result of our having brought home a contaminated box of dog cookies, for we discovered, on frantically going through our various food cupboards, that a box of such treats was infested. We immediately discarded it, and looked about for other infected boxes, found others and discarded them as well.

Thought we had the problem licked, ha! The incidence of moths flying about in the early evenings began to accelerate, and I began to look elsewhere. I have a centre island in the kitchen where I keep baking supplies. I have one end wall of the kitchen full of cupboards and in part of them I keep pantry supplies; tinned foods and other types like dry cereals, nuts, candies, pastas.

Cupboards beside/over the stove contain condiments, spices, herbs, and again, some grain products. The cupboard where the dog food and treats are kept is separate and apart. All of these cupboards were duly emptied, scrubbed down, the contents of containers closely examined, some found to be suspicious or evidently contaminated and discarded. I threw out an inordinate amount of foodstuffs, either through suspicion or identification of contaminant.

And kept repeating this time-consuming, and frustrating process over and over again. Yet was unable to eliminate the infestation because, it would seem, I was unable to find the ultimate source of the contamination. Then I went on line and sought out a potential answer there. I ordered a flour and pantry moth trap from pherotech, a Canadian (B.C.) company, offering a natural antidote to unwanted pests.

Pheromones would do the trick. And they did. It took time. We went through two of the active inserts, and over the space of a month or so we were finally assured that our trials and tribulations were a thing of the past. And now, they're back, and we can hardly believe it. We found a cache of unshelled mixed nuts, in a plastic container with a tight, screwed-down lid - infested. And moths flitting about, about one each day for a week.

Tight lids, careful storage, forget it. Our son, the scientist carefully explained how it was possible for minuscule and determined worms to find their way through the most seemingly- airtight blockages. So, to the ramparts once again. The battle is joined. Bloody damn!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Memory

All those years ago when I was a child, the oldest of my immigrant family's children. Realizing that something was not quite right. Hearing my father speak of dreadful dark things happening somewhere else, across the world, in Europe. Something dread having to do with Jews. I was already aware that Jews were not held in great esteem in some elements of the society in which I lived. I knew, vaguely, that some children considered me to be an outcast of some sort, a representative killer of Christ.

I knew because I'd been called "Christ-killer" often enough. Certainly that disturbed me, and I found it more than a little offensive, and frightening. But I was also proud that I was a Jew. I can't say completely what it was that so filled me with pride, but it was a fact of my existence. My impoverished family somehow, somewhere found enough funds to send me to an after-school parochial school.

I dimly recall my father walking the route with me from the house we lived in to the location of the school. After that I was on my own, expected to walk the route myself each late afternoon after school for several hours of instruction in Jewish history, tradition, culture. I learned to write and to read Yiddish, and my existing vocabulary was built upon. History was fascinating and revealing; and no little bit romantic.

Jewish songs and literature were equally interesting, and although I didn't at the time appreciate that I was expected to attend two schools on a daily basis, and on week-ends as well, it was part of my life. Several of the songs I was taught while attending this secular, humanist, socialist-oriented Jewish school remain with me yet. One of them brings tears to my eyes, reminding me as it does of the Holocaust.

It's the song of the Vilna Partisans. Written by a Jewish man who fought with the Partisans, using an old Russian folk melody. I had remembered the Jewish words and sung them often, but the English version had escaped me. Until I looked it up on an Internet site. Strangely enough, inputting the first five words in Yiddish brought me all the information I looked for.

The Partisan Song - Hersh Glick

Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg,
Khotsh himeln blayene farshtein bloye teg,
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
S'vet a poyk ton undzer trot -- mir zaynen do!

Never say that there is only death for you
Though leaden clouds may be concealing skies of blue
Because the hour that we have hungered for is near;
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: We are here!

Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,
Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey,
Un vu gefain s'iz a shprits fun undzer blut,
Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut.

From land of palm tree to the far-off land of snow
We shall be coming with our torment and our woe,
And everywhere our blood has sunk into the earth
Shall our bravery, our vigour blossom forth!

S'vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,
Un der nekhtn vet farshvindn mitn faynd,
Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor --
Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.

We'll have the morning sun to set our day aglow,
And all our yesterdays shall vanish with the foe,
And if the time is long before the sun appears,
Then let this song go like a signal through the years.

Dos lid geshribn iz mit blut un nit mit blay,
S'iz not keyn lidl fun a foygl af der fray,
Dos hot a fold tsvishn faindike vent
Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!

This song was written with our blood and not with lead;
It's not a song that birds sing overhead.
It was a people, among toppling barricades,
That sang this song of ours with pistols and grenades.

To zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg,

Khotsh kimlen blayene farshtein bloye teg,
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho --
S'vet a poyk ton undzer trot -- mir zaynen do!

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Friday, November 09, 2007

A Study In Contrasts

He could have endeavoured a little harder to reach his goal while yet prime minister of Canada. He might have been somewhat less equivocal, rather more attuned to the subliminal message he imbibed from his father; might have evinced the courage to be true to himself. But what exactly is "himself", in any event?

Doubtless he would like to think it's the current Paul Martin - the one having succeeded the earlier incarnation's quest in the realm of wealth accumulation, corporate kingpin, high finance, the undisputed power attached to the administrative/legislative rule of a great country - now an individual of personal integrity and consciousness of society's needs.

As citizens of this country, and taxpayers representing a global sensibility for justice and fairness, we tend to remember him as someone who shielded his corporate enterprise from adding to this country's taxation coffers, while at the same time insisting Canadians pony up.

Oh yes, lest we forget, although we're not likely to, in the famous battle against the national debt, his infamous decisions to cut back on social spending, impacting notoriously on our health care system and the social umbrella that assisted the unfortunate among us.

What else? His seeming inability to reach decisions without anguished immobility of purpose. His resultant lack of action on so many fronts, not the least of which was Canada's declaration to fight child poverty within this prosperous country; to level the wage-field between the lower middle-classes, the poverty-stricken and the job-elites.

Stick the fight against environmental degradation in there, too.

Yet he is now re-born. I've no doubt he's essentially a good man at heart; just that it was a trifle difficult for him, to the manor born, to fully understand just how difficult it is for low-wage earners to make a life for themselves and their families. He may not have lacked compassion, but it certainly did appear so, when he ruthlessly cut back government investment in Canada's social fabric to create a more level atmosphere for all her citizens.

Look here, now, Paul Martin apparently reconciled with his loss of political status, devoting himself to the betterment of educational opportunities for First-Nation youth. All hail Paul Martin re-born. Unlike his predecessor he hasn't seen fit to cast aspersions upon those with whom he shared legislative powers. Jean Chretien unveiled a memoir full of spite and odious accusations, never accepting of his role in all the things that went so wrong under his tenure.

Released from the constraints of prime ministership, Jean Chretien wasted no time in hauling himself aboard lucrative engagements, representing the creme de la creme of advocates and lobbyists behind the respectable facade of a highly esteemed law firm. Becoming their personal elder statesman. One who could lead fully commercial missions after test-flying governmental missions.

Mr. Martin did prove in the end the courage of his convictions, even if he came by them tardily, in earlier manifestations declaring deference to the imperatives of political expedience. He now refers to the disgrace of the conditions in our aboriginal communities, referring to them as Canada's very own 'third world' communities, our great collective shame.

Get on with it, Right Honourable Paul Martin. On behalf of all of us. Spur us to action. Demonstrate the effectiveness of your first tentative stirrings of conscience and determination to succeed.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Oh Dear, Humble Pie!

Humble is perhaps putting it too emphatically; perhaps, in the name of reasonable doubt, exploring possible alternate options...? Lord Black who so effusively gushed his confidence that he would be found innocent of all charges brought against him in the U.S. appears to be restive; the sentencing date of November 30 draws nigh.

At which time he, and the world awaiting the post-verdict sentencing with bated breath, will learn what U.S. federal Judge Amy St.Eve has ruled for his very immediate future.

Might this man of massive intelligence and minuscule awareness conceivably be harbouring doubts about his infallibility? Not at all; he is but entertaining unfortunate thoughts of the lack of discernment and cerebral capabilities of the dozen men and women, tried and true, who sat in judgement of his self-incriminating antics in his life-drama of self-enrichment.

Three convictions of mail fraud and one of obstruction of justice have done him in.

He has instructed his highly-paid and, as it turned out, somewhat inept lawyers, to conduct quiet enquiries into the possibility of entreating those who have the powers to do so, to consider a more favourable option for His Lordship post-sentencing. Although he declared with his usual blend of supreme confidence and superior authority that he would never serve jail time, he appears now to be belated confounded by the reality that rears its serpent's head.

U.S. prosecutors have filed legal documents requesting that Judge St.Eve see fit to impose a sentence of incarceration for no fewer than a gaspingly-long period of from 19 to 24 years. Under the U.S. system of justice and time served, Lord Black, were he to receive that length of incarceration, might very well see his life end then and there.

Even he deserves better than that. 85% time served of the worse-case scenario would see him a doddering, drooling recluse.

Which is why, at this point, incarceration as tragic albeit unavoidable as it seems at this moment, might seem less frighteningly catastrophic were he to be able to serve time in Great Britain. He still holds British citizenship, after all. Under British law 50% of a sentence must be served after which an offender can apply for parole. Moreover, conditions in British jails are reputedly less harsh than those in the United States.

It's unfortunate that Lord Black gave up his Canadian citizenship in a pique of anger at former prime minister Jean Chretien's refusal to permit him to retain it and accept a peerage as well. At this point in his downfall it is a matter of much regret. He does retain residency status having spent the last three years pre-trial living in his country of origin and having applied to regain citizenship; with a criminal record now behind him, a remote possibility.

His residency visa expires three days before sentencing is pronounced. Were he to be able to bid for serving his sentence in Canada, for example, a mere one-third of the sentence served would suffice to enable qualification for full parole.

O Canada, 'tis of thee!

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Derogating History to the DustBin Again

What's that neat little phrase again...it happened, get over it. Right. Aggrieved Quebecois are at it again. French Canadians continue to apply outraged pressure whenever they feel they have been unfairly treated. And anything can be construed by French Canadians as unjust. Particularly anything having to do with the culture, traditions and above all, language of Quebec. As a result of which the federal government took steps to safeguard the French language in perpetuity within Canada declaring the official bilingual character of the country.
And the provincial government of Quebec went one better enacting legislation that placed any language other than French at a distinct disadvantage in that province, and with its draconian usage laws not only imperilled the place of English-speaking Quebecers in their shared society, but their own economic well-being with the pull-out of nervous corporate head offices and long-time Quebec citizens, seeking stability and peace elsewhere in the country. Perversely, Quebec is the only province within confederation where English-language usage is not protected by law.

And it's happening again. Language sabre-rattling discontent makes for nervous investment in Quebec. Immigrants who have chosen to settle in that province whose mother-tongue was French and those for whom it was not, and who represent a foreign culture, societal mores and religion seen as oppositional to Quebec's core values are becoming increasingly restive, worried about their future in a province whose majority residents view their differences with suspicion.

To those residents from abroad for whom the change in country of residence has exacted enough of a toll through an unsettling need to migrate, comes an additional headache. The pointed references to their home-grown foreign social and cultural traditions held up as unacceptable practises in Quebec. Along with their faltering stabs at learning a new language. Do it, else move elsewhere is the message they're receiving, loud and clear.

In a way can't blame the good people of Quebec. Their insistence on re-structuring 'reasonable accommodation' in a manner that makes them more comfortable could be related more to the fact that they have become increasingly alarmed at the incursions of exotic habitudes sometimes offensive in this society, than racial tension. Hard to tell the difference, sometimes. But Quebecers are offended and disenchanted with the dress code and values challenges differentiating immigrants from the mainstream culture.

French Canadians are sensitive to anything that even remotely sullies their history and their future prospects for language dominance in their singular province. They do have a reason to chafe at the prospect of diluting their language and customs through the incursion of increasing numbers of immigrants. Yet these immigrants spell the future success for economic viability in a country whose citizens are not duplicating their numbers by birth.

So relax, give them time. It's simply not the French Canadian way, unfortunately. What is their way is a blathering insistence that their version of history prevail. Which is why yet again complaints have been brought forward, this time against the National Capital Commission which has sought to bring the celebration of history to the notice of the residents of the National Capital Region.

Portraits of individuals who had a historical hand in the formation of the national capital have been placed on display at the Sparks Street Mall; Queen Victoria who selected Ottawa as the nation's capital, for example, and Sir John A. Macdonald, our first prime minister. Along with Lord Durham, British colonial governor whose crystal ball happened to be out of commission at the time when he argued that French Canadians were bereft of history and culture.

His idea at the time was that French Canadians would benefit greatly by assimilation into the English-speaking population. Oops, that incautious observation, logical at the time, and quite in step with prevailing opinion overall at the time has given birth to current protests. Launched by the head of the French-language lobby group Imperatif francais. Demanding the poster depicting Lord Durham be summarily removed and an apology offered to French Canadians.

The portrait, along with those of others of that era, has been on public display for six months, performing the function for which the display was planned. Lord Durham carefully described how the potential of future rebellions against the British fact in North America could be resolved before they occurred, and that was through the expedience of assimilation. A tried and true remedy which history ancient and more current have proved extremely useful.

"If French Canadians came together under a British system of government controlled for a time by England, they would learn proper ways and become anglicized." This was a matter of concern at the time, no less than it is now, after all this one and a half centuries of amalgamating Upper and Lower Canada into a single geographic entity. It happened. A reflection of the times. It is history.

Yet the NCC saw fit to swiftly accede to the complaint. "The NCC acknowledges that the recommendations put forth by Lord Durham at the time are considered inappropriate for many and certainly controversial", stated a NCC spokesperson. "We in no way intended to offend anyone and have subsequently removed the panel in question." So much for historical integrity and respect for reality.

Odd it most certainly is that a French-language watchdog can find fault with the historical record of fact, that a 1839 report written in response to rebellions that took place two years earlier, leading to the then-reasonable conclusion that assimilation could solve the issue is now anathema. Yet those very same French-speaking people are now insisting that new immigrants hasten their assimilation into the French-Canadian lifestyle, language, culture.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Final Winter Wrap-Up

Well, that's how it goeth. Summer wanes, Fall rushes in, and Winter is on the horizon. Yesterday it was I doing the final wrap-up in the garden, covering frail and vulnerable (for our hardy zone of 5) plants, bushes, and trees. Usually it's done before Hallowe'en, adding to the seasonal atmosphere, with the many rose cones resembling headstones and the winter-white wraps on the less hardy shrubs resembling, in the dim of the night, ghostly figures.

My portion of winter-readiness has thus been completed; all the winter wraps, the rose cones taken out of storage, making way for all of the tomato cages which come in so handy for propping up so many perennial plants - along with the peony cages, all the various-sized poles and stakes and the garden ornaments. And the transition was completed. Almost. Because in our gardens there are dozens of clay and ceramic ornamental garden pots needing also to be protected and over-wintered.

Some of them contain plants which will also over-winter safely stored in our capacious garage or our now-stuffed garden shed. We've hostas growing happily in large clay pots, and miniature roses as well, along with herbs like orenago that wait out the winter, ready to be restored to growing condition when spring comes along in the new growing season.

Those pots which can be moved, that is. There are a great many others which are classical urns and weighty, and these are left standing on their equally classical pillars, along with the 'stone' Japanese-style lantern, the birdbaths, the statuary reflective of classical antiquity. Covered, to protect them from the wet, freeze-and-thaw cycle, deadly to their continued intact status in readiness for another year.

The distaff side looks after readying the gardens, cutting back perennials, pulling annuals, emptying garden pots, while the spear-side does the heavy lifting, which includes the conveyance of those heavy garden pots into their winter abode, and the covering up of the urns for winter safeguarding. He also disassembles the outdoor furniture and hauls it into the garden shed (for those which are used in the back) or to the garage (for those used in the front).

The stone (cement) half-curved benches front and back are more than capable of holding their own through the winter months and they remain where they sit gracefully but stolidly. Lastly the covering and wrapping-up of the trusty barbecue whose job has finished for this year, along with the air conditioner; it too placed in rest condition for the nonce.

Until Spring!

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Whether The Weather

Weather permitting, we say.

Although we are almost unique in the animal kingdom in the facility to change our immediate environment, to shelter ourselves from the weather, we learn the hard way that despite our technological advances, our architectural abilities, our sheltered lives, when we live in coastal areas we are too often challenged by nature.

Those are the times when weather does not permit; does not permit us to remain complacent. Extreme weather conditions bring us to a state of humility before nature. And fear and foreboding accompany our anticipation of nature's anger at being taken for granted, that extreme weather conditions submit us to.

And so it has been most latterly in the wake of Hurricane Noel, when it whipped through the Dominican Republic and Haiti and left chaos there, then went on to remind Mexico that it too stands in the path of weather violence. With hundreds of towns evacuated and under water, tens of thousands of Mexicans in desperate straits without potable water and food, awaiting extrication from their ordeal, we are convinced.

So I was more than a little glad, speaking with my sister-in-law in Halifax, that this time around they experienced weather's pique as opposed to the last go-around when Hurricane Juan exposed Halifax residents to the full bore of vicious inclemency. Few branches down, she reported, no trees uprooted.

Little wonder, since Juan had already wrought such inestimable damage, there are scant few mature trees to flatten and uproot now. They were without power for a scant four hours. Lucky.

Not so fortunate my son's mother-in-law who breathlessly informed me she was cold, and getting colder. Her prospects for the resumption of power are slightly less hopeful, verging almost on bleak - not until Tuesday. But she's a stoic, and refuses to fault the lack of attention given to sparsely-domiciled areas such as hers, contending the power workers are doing a good job restoring power to large city centers, and she's seen worse. Although she hesitates just yet to venture outdoors because of the vicious winds.

As for us, we're still basking here in Eastern Ontario in relatively mild weather. A high of 5 degrees today, some sun, some cloud, little wind, no rain. Everyone has a great smirk of happiness on their ravine-jaunting faces. Mind, the trees are now completely bare of leaves and the aspect is sere and monochromatic, but it's the season.

When we returned from our ravine walk I stayed outside to work in the gardens. Thinking this was the perfect opportunity to finish winterizing them. And it was; not so cold that I would have to wear gloves, awkward when attempting to tie up twine. So I capped the already-mounded and cut-back roses with rose cones and weighted them with bricks atop each one.

Wrapped the tree peonies. Mounded and partially wrapped the Magnolia, the azalea, the rhododendron. Wrapped the ornamental cedars and spruces, while leaving the holly and the hemlock to fend for themselves; they'll do well. The globe cedars were wrapped, as well as the Japanese cut-leaf maple.

Done. Let it snow. And it will. We will experience - shortly - high winds, blowing snow, and icy rain. Weather prevails.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chance Encounters

We cherish our little companions. We worry about their welfare, we welcome their attention, we enjoy their company, we encourage their antics. They enrich our lives through laughter and the minutiae of their needs, the peculiarities and singularities of their personalities. We try to anticipate how whatever we do will impact on their well-being, and we do our best to protect them from harm.

With all the best intentions in the world - similar to loving and raising children - not every untoward event can be thwarted let alone anticipated. And so it was, yesterday, when we walked down the street on which we live, something we've done hundreds of thousands of times before, with our little dogs, after our morning ravine walk, that mini-disaster struck.

Button, the older and wiser of our little dogs, a black miniature Poodle-Pomeranian, is paranoid about stinging insects. Flies and ordinary beetles and bugs don't bother her at all. It's as though she is able to distinguish between harmless types and those that present a potential threat. She becomes inordinately nervous around wasps, bees, hornets, horseflies, and mosquitoes.

She knows what they're capable of. And she does her utmost to avoid close contact with them. She's had occasion to learn, back in the days when she was young. Once, she was stung by a bee in our backyard and that encounter left her with the knowledge of what pain is, and how it resulted in her left hind leg being immobilized for the better part of a day.

And once, when we'd gone for a walk in the woods after a summer afternoon of canoeing, we chanced upon a swarm of deerflies which made directly for her. We grabbed and hoisted her, and ran out of those woods. Another time, when we'd descended our way off a mountain and reached a point close to the trailhead, we walked into a swarming mass of wasps and those miserable pests burrowed into her eyes, her haircoat, and occasioned another grab-and-run.

This time, walking the short loop back home from our neighbourhood ravine, she happened to walk close to the street curb, where leaves had assembled. I saw her leap, then immediately favour her left back leg, holding it at an awkward angle, while attempting to walk on. Her leg was trembling uncontrollably; she stopped, looked at me, and I stooped to see whether she had picked up a bramble, a rose thorn.

Feeling under the soft pads of her foot I withdrew something, and flicked it onto the lawn next to the curb. Without my eyeglasses I wasn't able to positively identify it, but I had the feeling it was a wasp. She continued to hobble and to tremble, so I hoisted her and we walked to our driveway where I put her down. We examined her closely, could see nothing amiss, but clearly something was quite wrong.

We bathed her feet, carefully wiped her. She began painfully and aimlessly, restlessly maneuvering herself around the house, going from one spot to another, obviously seeking relief. She would stop, raise the affected foot, lick it repeatedly, even gently nibble at it, but could find no relief. We placed her in one of her beds, feeling time would look after the immediacy of the pain.

We thought about administering Medicam, but desisted. Again the leg-lifted ambling, the trembling, the licking, the hobbling back and forth. She tried to settle down, to rest, perforce to sleep, but was unable to find any peace. We had garden work to do, and she wanted to go out to the backyard with us. Once there, she began determinedly nibbling grass. Soon she threw up - once, twice - small portions of the breakfast she had eaten hours earlier.

She seemed to have recovered somewhat, was using her affected leg with more confidence. We went around to the front gardens and she sniffed about as usual, then went off to defecate, although this was highly unusual at this time of day for her. After which she dug into the soil beside the grass between a garden bed and the lawn and settled herself down into the moist, cool earth, and slept.

Comfortably. Her ordeal solved by some inner wisdom of self-treatment.

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